Assessor criticizes budget plan, Hammond cites ‘misrepresentations’

The town’s principal assessor, Al Hammond, called on the Town Board Tuesday to restore funding that he said was vital for his department’s operations but had been cut back in Supervisor Jim Dougherty’s preliminary town budget for 2012. Mr. Hammond called some of the numbers in the budget “misrepresentations.”

“They are not what we requested. They are not entirely correct,” he said, and if the Town Board did not restore some of the cuts, his department couldn’t function properly and “we might just as well close it.”

Mr. Hammond also made a pitch for a 2-percent increase in his salary of $60,815 to $62,000 and in part-time assessors BJ Ianfolo and Pat Castoldi’s current salaries of $17,984 and $11,989.

Supervisor Dougherty said he had rejected the salary request in preparing the budget because he had told department heads he was “flat lining peoples’ compensation.” He said “a number of department heads had volunteered” to forego a raise while others had asked for one “on the usual grounds.” If the town gave the assessors a raise, he said, “It’s a precedent and we have to be very, very careful.”

Town Board members did not reveal their thinking on the request but Councilman Peter Reich urged the board “not to look at any salaries until we run through” Mr. Dougherty’s entire budget proposal, which board members have complained contains blanks and puzzling figures, and “plug in” numbers that “are missing” or need to be changed.

The supervisor did not explain the cuts his budget calls for in the assessors office. One of them — a reduction from a requested $1,850 to $800 for a support contract — paid for “an application to run our office,” Mr. Hammond said.

The requested figure is a fixed cost for contracts that cover three software applications, according to Mr. Hammond; one to conduct property assessments, another to manage appraisals and a third to “draw plans of new construction” based on filings with the Building Department. It was budgeted at $1,900 for 2011 but an early payment had shaved $50 from the cost, he said, so he had requested $1,850 for 2012. In Mr. Dougherty’s proposal, the budgeted amount for 2012 is shown as $800.

Another request that was cut for 2012 — from $2,500 to $1,750 — is listed on the “reval update” line in the budget. Mr. Hammond said the money he asked for was needed to continue the annual property revaluation or reassessment process begun a decade ago to keep listed values in line with fluctuating market prices. He said Shelter Island and Southampton towns were the only ones in Suffolk County that had won state support grants in recognition of their up-to-date revaluation programs. Shelter Island’s grants averaged $15,000 a year for 10 years, he said, so the $2,500 to run the reval operation “is money well spent.”

Reducing it by $750 and cutting into the update process “would curtail our going forward” and possibly cost the town another grant in 2012.

Mr. Hammond called for corrections for two other numbers in the supervisor’s budget proposal. He said he had requested $7,800 not $8,722 for BJ Ianfolo’s health benefits and $4,165 not $3,800 for Pat Castaldi’s health stipend. The supervisor’s 2012 “revised” numbers are listed as $7,772 and $3,703 respectively.

His requests, Mr. Hammond said, reflected fixed costs and were “not discretionary” so could not be cut.

Also during the budget review portion of Tuesday’s meeting, the board heard from Kathy Gooding, P.A.T. Hunt and Carol Galligan of the town’s Taylor’s Island Committee. Ms. Gooding urged the board to hold the line on the committee’s current $22,000 budget and not cut it. In fact, the committee got a raise.

The committee’s request was for an increase to $26,500 in 2012, according to the supervisor’s budget proposal, and the amount he budgeted for 2012 is $22,500.

The overall effect of the discussion was to raise the committee’s 2012 budget to $25,000, higher than this year’s but lower than the requested amount.

Building Permit Coordinator Mary Wilson came in to meet with the board about her 2012 budget — nearly unchanged from 2011, down to $63,331 from $63,511 — but the board had no questions and she offered no comments.

In other business on Tuesday, the board:

• Heard Highway Superintendent Mark Ketcham report that flaws in the design would delay the renovation of the senior kitchen in the town’s Medical Center. Mr. Ketcham said the plans prepared by engineer Matt Sherman had to be revised. See separate story on page 10.

• Debated the budget for the new ambulance department. See separate story on page 1.

• Reviewed plans for county dredging at the point of Shell Beach, where sand carried southward along the outer beach is building up the beach and extending it into the channel. Councilman Glenn Waddington suggested that the county move the proposed spoil site for dredged sand farther northwest down the beach, to the area where the town recently filled in and reinforced a washed-out section of embankment along Oak Tree Lane. Mr. Ketcham said the county would need extra pumping power to do that and, without repairs to the aged and crumbling groins or jetties along the outside of Shell Beach, any sand deposited there would soon wash away.

• Heard Supervisor Dougherty report that the Lions scallop fundraising dinner — with proceeds earmarked for the Senior Activity Center kitchen renovation — had raised more money than ever, nearly $9,000 from 295 patrons compared to a usual figure of 175. He said the Lions had promised a minimum of $2,500 for the kitchen project but that he expected the club would raise that number.

• Heard the supervisor report that he had proposed a contract for Dr. Peter Kelt’s rental of office space in the Medical Center that would continue the $800 rate he’s been paying for many years without a lease. The contract would include a provision for increases to reflect inflation with a 3 percent annual cap. As reported last week, Dr. Kelt has contracted with Winthrop University Hospital to take over his office. He and his wife Jean will continue working as employees of Winthrop, which will handle insurance claims, billing and other chores, Mr. Dougherty announced last week.